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Saw Wai was released from Yamethin Prison, Mandalay Division, on May 26, 2010—nearly five months after his two-year sentence for “inducing crime against public tranquility” expired. In October 2019, the military brought a case against Saw Wai and two other activists for remarks they made at a public gathering in April 2019 in support of Parliament’s decision to create a committee to draft amendments to Myanmar’s constitution. Following the February 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar, the junta has further targeted writers including Saw Wai.

Case History

Saw Wai is a Burmese poet and performance artist well known for his romantic poetry. Before his arrest, Saw Wai headed the White Rainbow poetry recital group, an organization of artist and writers working to raise money for AIDS orphans. Although at one point employed by the government communications office, Saw Wai was dismissed from his job after taking part in the 1988 Uprising against the military junta.

Saw Wai was arrested on January 2, 2008, after his poem “February the Fourteenth,” an eight-line verse about Valentine’s Day, was published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal. An acrostic poem, when the first letters of each line are put together, they read “General Than Shwe is crazy with power” in Burmese. The weekly magazine quickly sold out as word spread of the coded message.

On November 10, 2008, Saw Wai was sentenced to two years in prison for “inducing crime against public tranquility.” His wife expressed deep concern for his health, citing his condition at the trial where he was unable to maintain a single position for long periods of time due to pain. On May 26, 2010, nearly five months after his sentence expired, Saw Wai was released from Yamethin Prison, Mandalay Division.

In October 2019, the Kawthaung Township Court accepted a case against Saw Wai and two other activists brought by the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, for alleged defamatory statements made at a public gathering in April 2019. The remarks were reportedly in support of Parliament’s decision to create a committee to draft amendments to Myanmar’s constitution. Saw Wai remains on trial in connection with these allegations.

A court set Saw Wai’s trial to begin on January 20, 2020; however, neither party appeared. Despite the fact that Saw Wai reported never receiving a legal summons to appear for his trial, the court issued an arrest warrant for Saw Wai. On February 3, 2020, Saw Wai appeared in court, and the court cancelled the arrest warrant. Saw Wai was granted bail and did not spend time in jail–an unusual occurrence under Section 505(a), which was allowed because of his compromised age and health. On May 31, 2021, the junta made allegations to abduct his daughter and announce her as a criminal.

Starting in early September 2007, a major crackdown was underway in Burma, following demonstration by monks and pro-democracy activists, which began on August 19, 2007. Writers and journalists are among the scores of people who were detained. On November 11, 2008, it was reported that about 40 Burmese dissidents, including human rights defenders and Buddhist monks, were sentenced by a court in Insein Prison, Rangoon, to up to 65 years in prison.